Dairy cows move into “islands”

Photo courtesy of UW-Madison CALS

Photo courtesy of UW-Madison CALS




Mark Stephenson, UW-Extension Dairy Policy Analyst
Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
(608) 890-3755




Cows on islands? Mark Stephenson talks about where cows are and aren’t in the U.S.

3:05 – Total Time

0:16 – What are cow islands
0:47 – Where cows aren’t
1:20 – Dairy follows the market
2:04 – Change in Wisconsin
2:39 – Wisconsin celebrates dairy
2:55 – Lead out


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Sevie Kenyon: Mark, introduce us to this notion of ‘cow islands.’

Mark Stephenson: Cow islands are really areas where we’ve seen dairy retreating to or concentrating in. Sometimes they’re located around a large dairy plant that wants or needs the milk, sometimes it’s just a set of resources that describes very much why cows should be there. Wisconsin’s a good example. We’ve got great climate, great forages, and lots of plants.

Sevie Kenyon: Mark, you recently looked at this movement of milk and cattle- can you describe for us where the cows have gone?

Mark Stephenson: For one thing, let me just talk a little bit about where cows aren’t anymore, or at least, we’ve had a major exodus and that’s the entire southeastern quadrant of the United States. The southeast has just had a big loss of cattle. Part of that’s because it’s hot and it’s humid down there; high-producing cows don’t do well in that environment. Several regions of the country, like California for example and Idaho, that have had pretty spectacular growth, but so too has Wisconsin.

Sevie Kenyon: Mark, what does this movement of cattle and concentration of milk production mean?

Mark Stephenson: Well, we’ve had growth in the country that has really responded a lot to where a few very large dairy plants want to build. If you have a company that says, “I need more cheese,” they might be looking at a location and ask themselves, “Where can I put a plant where I can get the kind of growth and milk production that I need?” So plants are co-locating with farms, and quite often the areas where we see big growth is not a real large region but it’s intensive growth in a fairly small area, so maybe 30 or 40 farms have gone in where a plant has gone in and they’re now supplying milk to those plants. And again, that’s quite often where people aren’t.

Sevie Kenyon: And Mark, maybe I can get you to describe a little bit about the situation here in Wisconsin?

Mark Stephenson: Wisconsin has a different kind of growth pattern than many areas. You know, if you wanted to put another oh, let’s say 50,000 cows down in the state to supply a very large new plant, you might ask yourself, “Where could we do that?” So the growth in Wisconsin is more between the cracks. We have farms that are increasing in size, we have farms that are increasing in productivity, we do have growth- most of it on the eastern side of the state, but not all of it.

Sevie Kenyon: Is Wisconsin bucking the trend with increasing cows in populated eastern Wisconsin?

Mark Stephenson: You know, it’s a curiosity, I think. This state celebrates its dairy industry. There’s a greater tolerance I think for animal agriculture here than you find in many other parts of the country. People appreciate agriculture in this state.

Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with Mark Stephenson, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, University of Wisconsin in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison, Wisconsin, and I’m Sevie Kenyon.



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